Interview: Andes Addresses Retirement, Local Education Issues

NEWARK — After 16 years as Worcester County’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jon Andes announced earlier this month that he will be retiring at the end of this school year. The Dispatch sat down with Andes this week to discuss his career and future plans.

Q: Could you tell me about your history before coming to Worcester County?

A: I grew up in in rural Pennsylvania, which is very much like this area except with hills. I went to Bloomsburg University where I received my bachelor’s degree in secondary education and social studies.

Three weeks before school started in 1976, I was offered a teaching and coaching job in Hartford County. I started teaching and coaching at Havre de Grace high school. I was at the Havre de Grace High School in Harford County for a total of 13 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal or principal.

After serving in those capacities, I was appointed assistant superintendent in Harford County.

Q: In 1996 you came to Worcester and have served as superintendent since then. In your 16 years, what would you say has been your proudest moment? Your biggest regret?

A: I think one of the many defining moments was the night Michelle Hammond was named Maryland teacher of the year. Michelle represented all of the outstanding teachers and that night every teacher in Worcester County was named Maryland teacher of the year.

I’ll just change the word from ‘regret’ to ‘challenge.’ As superintendent of schools, we are always faced with needs and resources that don’t match those needs. It is a challenge trying to meet all of those needs and the frustration is watching them go unmet.

Q: You mentioned Snow Hill High School (SHHS) in your retirement announcement. The County Commissioners chose to delay planned renovations on the school this year due to money constraints. In hindsight, what could have been done differently? Do you think Pocomoke High School’s (PHS) renovations should have come after SHHS as was the original plan?

A: In 2001, the plan was to do Showell Elementary School then Pocomoke and then Snow Hill. In December 2001, the County Commissioners requested that the Board of Education change the order of the projects to move Pocomoke and Snow Hill in front of Showell. The reason the order was Pocomoke and then Snow Hill was the age of the roof. We picked Pocomoke because it had the older roof. It had buckets in all of the hallways. We have the same issue now at Snow Hill; the roof is leaking.

The thinking at the time was, not only can we take advantage of economy of scale by using the same architect firm [that did PHS for SHHS] but also we can take advantage of economy of scale by having the same contractors work on both projects. So while the Pocomoke project was winding down and ending, we were supposed to go ahead and bid out SHHS.

It made absolutely perfect sense that we finish Pocomoke and then go to Snow Hill. It made absolutely perfect sense that we’d take advantage of economy of scale. It made absolutely perfect sense that we’d take advantage of local contractors and employ local people.

The [current] building limits educational opportunities for students. Right now SHHS is an antiquated facility.

Q: Why have you decided to retire now after just being offered another four-year contract by the Board of Education?

A: I’ve been in public education 36 years. I’ve been superintendent of schools for 16 years. I’m the longest serving superintendent in the state of Maryland.

I did not want to put the Board of Education in a situation where I would accept a four-year contract and then serve one year. I wanted to end my relationship with Worcester County schools at the end of my 16th year rather than accept a new four-year contract I knew I could not fulfill.

Q: The state formula for financial assistance to schools has been criticized a lot during your term. The wealth-based formula lists Worcester County as the richest in the state because of high property values though in reality, nearly half of the students in the county are on a Free or Reduced Meal (FARMS) plan, a general indicator of poverty. What do you think has to be done to make the formula fairer?

A: I think what would make the formula fairer would be to eliminate the wealth factor. Since we’re the “wealthiest” county in the state, we receive the second lowest amount of state aid.

Under the Bridge to Excellence Act, a portion of the aid that school systems receive is based on the number of students eligible for FARMS, the number of students receiving special education services, and the number of students where English is not their primary language. To make it fairer for all school systems I believe we should move to a total student count.

In other words, eliminate “wealth.” Take wealth out of the picture.

Q: So your future plans are still up in the air. Do you at least think you’ll remain in Worcester?

A: Our plan is to stay in Worcester County. The best decision I ever made was to move to Worcester County. It was the best decision for my family and me.

[My children] are being very successful in life and that’s because of the education they received in Worcester County schools.